Nearly 10,000 migrant kidnappings in Mexico in 6 months



You may recall that last year, I published this video about a group of Honduran mothers who came to Mexico looking for their missing family members and friends.

Since then, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has a carried out it’s own investigation into the problems Central and Latin American migrants encounter when they try to cross or enter Mexico, usually on route to the United States.

The report found 198 cases of migrant kidnappings during that time, with an average of 33 kidnappings a month – that’s more than one a day. During that period, 9,758 migrants were deprived of their liberty. More than 60 percent of kidnappings involved groups of migrants travelling together. The majority of those kidnapped were from Honduras (67 %). 18% of the victims were from El Salvador and 13% from Guatemala.

Who’s doing the kidnapping?

More than 9,000 of the victims were kidnapped by gangs that operate along Mexico’s migrant routes, 35 of them were kidnapped by police, migrant officials or other Mexican authorities, and 56 were taken by a combination of the two working together. In 6 of the cases, migrants were kidnapped by a single kidnapper.

According to the Commission’s research, the various kidnappers asked for a ransom of between US$1,500 to US$5,000 for their hostages, who were often blindfolded, driven to various locations, and in some cases only fed one meal a day, sometimes consisting of little more than bread or stale tortillas. The average price they demanded was around US$2,500, meaning that over the six-month period, kidnapping gangs or authorities made around US$25 million from ransom money out of the 9,758 victims detected by the study.

The president of the Comision Nacional de Los Derecho Humanos (CNDH) Dr. José Luis Soberanes Fernández, made a speech at the unveiling of the report here in Mexico City on Monday. Needless to say I wasn’t there in person due to my foot injury, but was sent the speech.

“These figure clearly show that the frequency and magnitude of migrant kidnappings represent an enormous level of this criminal activity, which means high earnings from delinquency.

He also said that the reaction of the Mexican authorities hasn’t been proportional to the severity and volume of the crimes against migrants in Mexico, leading to an increase in the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes.

Gigi Bonnici, an independent human rights consultant, specializing in immigration and asylum issues who has eight years of experience working with migrants and refugees in Mexico for a number of organizations including Sin Fronteras, said of the findings:

“The statistics are frightening, given that we are probably talking about thousands more, since this is obviously a very difficult issue to assess, primarily because the overwhelming majority of cases are not reported to anyone. The migrants often consider these crimes as part of the cost of migrating, part of the tax one has to pay for being poor and for crossing through Mexico and into the US without legal documents.”

She said that the fact that many migrants don’t know their rights combined with the indifference of the majority of the Mexican population compounds the problem.

“The international migrant population traveling through Mexico by train, by bus or on foot is by and large an invisible one to the majority of the Mexican population – invisible in the sense that they are essentially undocumented and live in fear of being discovered by any type of authority; invisible in the sense that they themselves are often unaware that as human beings they have the same rights as all of us to physical integrity and to be protected from criminal acts, whether they have legal status to be in the country or not; invisible in the sense that in the eyes of the authorities charged with protection they have no rights and so are not subject to protection by the state (which also means that criminal perpetrators who harm migrants are not subject to state investigation); invisible in the sense that (unlike other so-called vulnerable groups) migrants do not exist to the Mexican population at large – because they are considered criminals who are simply using passage through the desert to get to the north (in fact sometimes even considered as “competition” for those Mexicans who are trying to do the same thing), the public also does not believe that they should be owed protection by the state.”

Finally, Bonnici picks up on a point that explains why I choose to highlight this issue so frequently. Mexico and the Mexican Government have worked hard to gain recognition of the migrant rights of Mexicans in the United States. The issue of Mexico’s northern border with the United States and the thousands of migrants (of many nationalities) who die trying to cross it each year is a humanitarian tragedy. That said, it’s only fair that Mexico’s government and people turn their attentions to those migrants suffering within Mexico’s own borders and pay them the same respect they demand for their paisanos / countrymen abroad.

“Undocumented migrants have no access to justice in Mexico; at most, access to justice for migrants is conditioned on a regular legal status,” says Bonnici.

“If an undocumented migrant wishes to approach the police or prosecutor in order to lay a charge for a crime committed against him or her, or to provide witness testimony, he or she would risk being detained and deported. According to Article 67 of the General Populations Law and section 201 of its Regulations, the authorities are obliged to first confirm legal status of the claimant, and if the person cannot prove legal status in Mexico, he must be transferred to the migration authorities (which means, being detained in immigration detention prison and most likely deported). Why on earth would any migrant who already has suffered at the hands of criminals, expose himself to these risks, especially when there is strong evidence to suggest that the authorities are in collusion with the kidnappers, and when it is abundantly clear that the migrant will get no redress or restitution.

“This is obviously a significant violation to the right to equality before the law, and is also something Mexico has fought hard to get for its own migrants in the US.”

The CNDH’s investigation took place between September 2008 and February 2009 this year, and was carried out by Comission employees who toured migrant shelters throughout Mexico, from Chiapas all the way to Baja California and Nuevo Leon.